Day 13: Sapillo Creek + The First Crossing of the Gila River



The day started off in a pine forest weaving through land that held the secrets of centuries past. The remains of an old burn left fallen trees silvery black in the sunlight. The canopy towered over us, and the wind in the pine needles created a constant rumble. We finished our climb up to Tadpole Ridge (8023 feet) just as the sun was beginning to hit our side of the mountain. In the distance, we could see the hoodoos of Doug's front yard and the mesa behind them. Garbelly yelled down, "Good-morning, Doug," and the trees rattled back as his voice faded into the wind. When we reached the top, we came to the intersection where the Columbus route meets the Crazy Cook route. 


From here, we began our descent down. Next stop, the Gila River Canyon. We came to a sign that read 'Gila River 2 miles', and then we began the real descent. Straight down to the river we slid for over a mile until the trail turned into switchbacks. The first couple of views of the canyon put a skip in our step as we picked up our pace to the river. The red rock faces stood like giants, and just a sliver of the river came into our sight.


Before hitting the Gila, we first came upon Sapillo creek which feeds into the river. The water ran crystal clear over multicolor rocks. It was amazingly beautiful. Garbelly and Thor ran up the side of the cliff on the opposite side to explore a small slot cave tucked into the rock.


Critter did what Critter does best, investigating the critters in the water. Flipping over rocks, we found Mayfly nymphs and everywhere you looked delicate shelters housing Caddisfly larvae could be seen. The pebbles they were usually reflected the colorful rock beds they lived in. We filtered some water about 1.5 liters. As we were kneeled down over the water and our filters, we picked up a stone that had a large, dark Mayfly nymph sitting completely still on the stone's underside. The stone was about to be placed back in the water when all of a sudden the carapace on the back of the nymph began to split. We sat there and watched the Mayfly emerge from its nymph shell. The wings came first tissue thin and standing straight up in the air. Next the head, tailing behind the long, segmented abdomen, and finally the three tails, long and hair-thin. The tiny Mayfly wiggled it's wings dry and it's slender body and then just sat there. We sat there in complete awe just staring at it before it caught a break in the wind and flew away.


Our first sight of the river was just too much for words. To our left was a giant slab of rock elbowing as the water flowed around the bend like the very vein of the canyon. Thick luscious green cottonwoods, oaks, and pines colored in all of the negative space that the water and rock carved out. To our right, more gorgeous rock and sparkling water. We could see another bend in the rock and water upstream. We sat for a few and ate lunch consisting of hummus, cheese, summer sausage (Garbelly), and tortillas. Our map said that we did not have to cross the river yet, but rivers change. We made our first of many river crossings through the chilly, swift waters of the Gila River. We waded to one side curving around a bend then waded to the other. On land we waded through thick pile of debris from a flood a couple years back, and in the water, we waded one step at a time against the rush of water and the gusts of wind. Anticipating how many times we would have to cross back to back, we left our shoes and socks on. When we climbed back up on the steep banks of land, our feet felt like bricks from the water in our shoes and the chill of the water. Our feet were wet, and they would not dry out until camp that night.

Hot springs along the river. 

Hot springs along the river. 

 As we made a crossing, we saw a fellow dressed in tan camouflage and tan waders with a straw hat on setting up camp in the sand. His green raft was anchored up on shore, and his tent matched his own disguise. The sight of us interrupted the staking down the tent process, it seemed from where we were at, and we wandered over to introduce ourselves. Turns out he was floating down a forty mile stretch of the Gila and turkey hunting! We spoke to him for awhile, and he even let us in on the tip that where he was camping for the night were some hot springs. The algae in the water was a sign of hot springs underneath the sand. All you had to do was dig a pit in the sand with the head of an old shovel that was sticking out of the sand, wait for it to fill with river water, and then wait for it to warm up. You could regulate the temperature by letting more river water in to cool it off or cutting off the flow to warm it up. Fascinated, we stuck our feet and hands in and sure enough they were toasty, just like a hot springs. We spoke a little bit longer before wishing each other a good trip. We had a couple more miles to go before we wanted to call it a day, and we wanted to squeeze in as many more crossings as we could.


We ended up with 22 crossings for the day. That night we camped in a patch of trees and ate dinner on a sandy beach while we watch the stars come out and the river float on.


Cheers to a new chapter: The Gila River!

Garbelly & Critter